Business opportunities often appear from the most unexpected places. As the new year approaches, it's a great time to step back and look at the business that you've won over the past year. Identify the common problems that you solved for customers to identify market opportunities that you could build on in the coming year.
While Brenda Luper was working for Franklin Computer Services in Ohio, she noted that customer relationships were often built or strengthened when Franklin supported business moves. Office moves stress the business and people, requiring a unique set of IT services. The project management skills of IT service providers are well-suited to smoothing the process and limiting transition issues.
Luper saw an opportunity and set out to serve those customer's moving needs. In addition, she recognized a unique opportunity to partner with other IT service providers through Franklin Moves.
Franklin Moves, a division of Franklin Computer Services since 2001, is a company fully focused on helping small and mid-sized organizations manage the chaos of moving. Luper provides the tools and project management to support the moves and -- here is the unique twist -- she matches Microsoft partners across the country with Franklin Moves clients to support their IT needs during business move.
Each of the organizations that Franklin Moves supports needs IT services to ensure backup, move hardware, configure the new office and reconnect systems. Partners get the opportunity to demonstrate great support and project management to earn the future business of the organization, as well.
The system works from both sides. Partners can engage Franklin Moves to assist with the project management for a client move. When Franklin Moves is engaged to support a move, Luper contacts a local partner to provide the IT services and build a relationship with a new client.
As Luper explains the partner value, "By breaking your business out of its traditional box and assisting those planning a move through Franklin Moves, you can help the customers feel at ease with all the changes that come with relocating. As the hero of the move, you build an alliance with your customer that your competition can't shake!"
As partners look for new ways to build service opportunities and competitive differentiators with customers, creative thinking is a must. Franklin Moves is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking that builds a win for clients and partners.
Have you found a unique way to expand your services? Leave a comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on December 08, 2011 at 12:39 PM0 comments
Marketing usually slows down during the holiday season, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep talking to your clients. The holidays can present unique opportunities to build relationships with customers and give back to the community. Here are four ideas to get you started:
- Include Customers in Holiday Giving
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of companies replacing the expense of holiday cards with a donation to charity. Those companies e-mail their customers a holiday message and tell them about the donation. Great start -- but how about taking it one step further and engaging with your customers?
- Highlight Nonprofit Organization Customers
This is a wonderful time of year to shine a light on these organizations and let your other customers know they are part of the family. You could feature your nonprofit clients at a holiday event or tell their stories in the newsletter.
- Support Your Employees' Community Efforts
If one of your employees is active in supporting a community organization, take the opportunity to tell the rest of your team and your customers about their dedication. The personal connection can inspire others to get involved.
- Give Customers the Opportunity To Join In
If you sponsor a volunteer day to make bikes or deliver food, invite your customers to join you. Many small companies don't have time to organize a volunteer event but their employees would love to make a contribution.
Whether your clients are located across town, the country or the globe, they appreciate knowing that you give back to your community. People enjoy doing business with people they like. This is a great time of year to share with your customers the good things that you do and invite them to join you in making the world a better place.
How do you engage customers during the holidays? Comment below or e-mail me and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on November 28, 2011 at 1:36 PM0 comments
You've sent out a companywide e-mail requesting content and article ideas for your monthly newsletter, and...crickets.
Don't worry. There is a ton of content that you can use on Microsoft's Ready-to-Go Web site. It may not be labeled "newsletter content" but it's there.
However, while the new and improved Ready-to-Go marketing tools site really is a huge improvement over the previous site (see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of my series, "Why Microsoft 'Ready-to-Go' Is Worth a New Look"), it can still be a little overwhelming if you don't use it regularly. Here are some tips to help you find content that will feed your newsletter for months to come.
The telesales guides may the single best place to find material that is cut-and-paste-ready for your newsletter. A search on "telesales" turned up 38 results on subjects from Office 365 to Lync to Dynamics. Some include FAQ sections that are perfect for a newsletter article or blog post. Since they are written from a benefits-positioning perspective, all of them have messaging that you can easily transform into a story.
While there aren't as many documents titled "FAQ," these are often long lists that you can dole out in small pieces. Add a continuing series of "Common Customer Questions" to your newsletter. Mix up questions across product lines to stimulate cross-sell opportunities.
Use the competitive guides to answer your customer's questions about other products up front. By initiating the discussion, your customers will appreciate your willingness to bring up the "other guys." The content in the Ready-to-Go competitive guides gives you the material to present the Microsoft benefit perspective succinctly.
Whitepapers and Reports
In response to requests from partner marketers, Microsoft is increasing the number of current whitepapers and reports available on Ready-to-Go. (Hint: Search for "whitepaper," not "white paper.") For your newsletter article, borrow text from the Executive Summary to tell your reader what's in the whitepaper and why they should be interested.
Post the whitepaper to your Web site or landing page and include the link in the article. (In my opinion, you should not require them to fill out a form to download the document, but that is a whole other blog post in itself.) If you use Constant Contact or other e-mail marketing service, you will be able to see who clicked the link to download the whitepaper.
So, when you are feeling all alone looking at that blank document that needs to become an interesting newsletter, go to Ready-to-Go. Your marketing friends at Microsoft are there to help you out.
Have you found creative ways to use Ready-to-Go content? Leave a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on November 10, 2011 at 12:07 PM0 comments
Business is picking up for many Microsoft partners, and while that is great news, it means that marketing is going to go to the bottom of the list...again. No matter how intent you are on writing the blog posts or keeping the newsletter going, when you and the rest of your team get busy, those things don't get done.
If you don't have a dedicated marketing professional on your team, this may be a good time to engage one to keep your marketing going. There is a robust community of marketing consulting companies serving the Microsoft channel. Do your homework to select a firm with a track record helping partners like you.
Barbara Pfeiffer, CEO of Nurture Marketing, has been helping Microsoft partners improve their marketing results for many years. Previously a member of the Microsoft marketing team, Pfeiffer developed and introduced the widely renowned "Marketing Essentials" program for the Microsoft channel.
Pfeiffer offers the following advice to partners as they evaluate marketing consultants:
- Look for someone who has experience with the type of business you are doing, or your current business circumstances.
- During the initial interview process, the prospective marketing consultant should ask more questions than provide answers. Only when they fully understand your business should they offer solutions.
- Do you trust this person to represent your company in a sophisticated way?
- If you want leads in 15 days and they say no problem, there will be one. You're hiring an expert -- if they parrot what you say, they want your business at any cost (including your success).
- Look for a nurturing person. As a good listener, that should be someone that you like to work with that adds value and cares about your success.
Finally, Pfeiffer said, "You hire a marketing consultant because of their subject-matter expertise. Take their advice and resist changing their recommendations because what you're thinking seems right. Remember, only your market knows what it wants. A great marketing consultant has the experience and knowledge to understand how to reach and influence your potential customer base."
So many partners get caught up in the cycle of feast-or-famine marketing. When you are busy billing, you don't have time to market, and when things slow down, you panic. Intermittent marketing is not going to deliver the steady flow of leads that will help you build a stable business.
If you can't execute consistent marketing with the team you have, consider a marketing consultant to help.
Have you found a creative way to keep marketing alive in your organization? Comment below or tell me about it and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on November 03, 2011 at 2:27 PM0 comments
In the past two posts (here and here), we've talked about matching content to the buying cycle. Video content is no different, and is an effective and affordable option. While producing a video intended to go viral is fun, building a video strategy that supports your prospects buying process will probably deliver more leads.
Videos That Educate
Harvest Solutions, a Massachusetts-based CRM partner, uses videos to introduce basic concepts of CRM to prospects early in the buying cycle. Cathy Boudreau, social media and marketing specialist, has been working in the CRM industry for 10 years. "It still surprises me that people are looking for such basic information on CRM," Boudreau said.
When Harvest Solutions was first looking to add videos to its marketing mix, it had discussions about the level of content. The conclusion was that while people in the technology industry assume that everyone knows what CRM (or other IT acronyms) is, that's just not the case. Prospects need a simple explanation of the basic uses of the solution to understand how it can solve their problem.
"We started with the very basic principles to educate prospects." Boudreau continued, "Don't go for the stars trying to make a viral video. Basic videos that educate your prospects are what they are looking for."
Videos That Demonstrate
For an ISV in particular, a picture is worth a thousand words when the prospect is evaluating user interface and high-level functionality. Don't ask for too much commitment from the prospect at this time -- no forms to view the videos. A few examples of different approaches:
- Nintex has posted a variety of videos, from high-level to deeper dives, so that prospects can evaluate the Nintex workflow products on their own terms.
- ClickDimensions promotes its solution with a video that walks the user through common tasks.
- Corasworks gives prospects a taste of its solutions with a short video and invites them for a deeper dive through a webinar.
Videos That Compare
As your prospects are comparing solutions and vendors, they will be looking for evidence that you are the company best qualified to solve their problems. Customer testimonials and employee interviews presented through video can be a powerful relationship builder for these prospects.
Following are some examples of partners using videos to build their credibility with prospects.
- The Marks Group uses a friendly, sincere video featuring the owner to effectively connect with prospects. (Makes you want to give him a call and chat, doesn't it?)
- The IBIS Inc. Web site uses customer testimonial videos to build credibility with visitors from the moment they visit the site.
Videos are more affordable and easier than ever to embed in your Web site. Consider multiple types of videos to keep your prospects coming back to your site to get to know you better.
How are you using videos to build relationships with your prospects? Comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 27, 2011 at 8:39 AM0 comments
Last week, we talked about matching content to the buying cycle. In this post, we'll look at some specific examples of content you can build to help the buyer work through the purchase process.
As with all your marketing content, it's critical that you have a good grasp of your prospect's profile. You should be monitoring (or participating) in the professional organizations that serve your prospect's industry and/or role. With a clear understanding of their problems, you can offer empathy and solutions through your content.
The prospect has a problem and your goal is to help him understand that he's not alone. Make a list of common client problems that you solve to focus articles and blog posts.
- Monthly newsletters to your prospects and customers should include articles and case studies that highlight a client problem and your solution.
- Blog posts should address a single problem and include key words that a prospect would use to start a search. If you serve local businesses, include your town name in the posts. If you serve a specific industry, use the industry terms.
- Whitepapers or industry reports with a non-product approach describing a common problems and potential solutions demonstrate your expertise early in the process.
All three of the suggestions above can be used to educate the prospect on options, but now you can get more specific. Add screenshots to a blog post or include a screencast link in the newsletter to better serve these prospects.
- Videos and screencasts demonstrate how your solution solves the problem. Buyers will want to see the user interface or the business process flow.
- Attend trade shows to meet buyers face-to-face. Listen carefully to each prospect to understand where they are in the buying process and provide the appropriate support.
- Webinars and seminars should be focused on specific solutions to one or two problems common to an industry or role.
- Use case studies of your clients that describe how you solved their problem, including the value to their business.
When the buyer is ready to compare solutions, this is the time to focus more on your capabilities and potential fit with their business.
- Show videos with interviews of your leadership, employees and customers.
- Promotions offered by you or the vendor can help to tip the scale in your direction. Get creative with training and service promotions that will ensure project success to gain another reference client.
- Use fact sheets with clear functionality and service definitions so the client can compare apples to apples with other vendors. Outdated solution overviews and fact sheets don't reflect well on your business. You should already have this content on your Web site, but a downloadable PDF helps the prospect build a presentation for decision makers.
- If you have a Silver or Gold competency, clearly explain the commitment required to achieve that status on your Web site and in your literature.
Make a Selection
How can you help your prospect answer "yes" to the question, "Am I willing to risk my job to make this purchase recommendation?"
- Proposals that clearly spell out the responsibilities of both parties will help to set client expectations correctly.
- Sample project plans from previous engagements can illustrate the commitment that will be required from both client and vendor.
- If you are engaging in a big project, offer to hold a webinar for end users explaining the project and the outcomes when the contract is signed.
Through each step of the buying process, you can augment and fine tune the content you have already created. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel, but it's important to consider each step to support your buyer's decision process.
Have you matched your content strategy to buying cycles? Comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 19, 2011 at 11:45 AM0 comments
If creating valuable content for your prospects and customers isn't challenging enough, now we're going to throw in relevance to the buying process. Does it really matter? Yes. Does that mean we need to create even more content? No.
The point of content is to help the buyer decide
Producing content for content's sake means you are never done. Without a clear definition of how your content helps the prospect make a buying decision you're probably working too hard.
You can simplify by deciding what you will use to educate the buyer at each stage of the buying cycle and then build that content. Keep that content fresh with updates, rewrites and additions -- and stop continually re-creating the wheel.
Buying cycle stages
First, let's define the stages that a prospect goes through in the buying process:
- Recognize they have a problem
- Understand the objectives and possibilities
- Compare solutions
- Make selection
During each stage, the buyer is looking for increasingly detailed information to help them zero in on the right solution to their problem. While the prospect is likely going to use Internet searches in each step, the key words they use and the supporting content they want will be different.
Use buyer personas to make it real
You are building content for people, not for the buying cycle, so put the buying stages in terms of your buyer. You should have a good idea of your target or typical buyer, so stand in their shoes through the process.
Let's use a simplified example of a sales manager looking for a CRM solution. Everyone on the sales team is using spreadsheets to track opportunities. It takes the sales manager hours to build the pipeline report. She recognizes she has a problem and searches for sales force automation.
Problem recognition - At this point, our sales manager wants to find out if other companies like hers are having this same issues and what they are doing about it.
Understand possibilities - Through her searches, our sales manager finds CRM applications and wants to know that other companies like hers are using. She is looking for information that will filter the options available to her.
Compare solutions – By this stage, she has figured out what she wants, and now needs to identify and clarify the pros and cons of each choice.
Make selection – At the last stage our sales manager is probably asking herself the question, "Will I keep my job if I recommend this solution and it doesn't work?"
The goal of your content is to help your buyer make the right choice every step of the way. Next week we'll talk about the types of content that best serve each stage.
Have you matched your content strategy to buying cycles? Comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 13, 2011 at 5:06 PM0 comments
There's no doubt that ISV solutions can deliver more value to VAR customers and build services for the VAR. It's also true that VARs' relationships with their customers can open doors for ISVs that would otherwise be closed. So how can you leverage those relationships for more effective marketing?
The Challenge To Keep Content Fresh
Every partner struggles to keep content fresh on their Web site and/or blog. The pull of billable and development work is relentless and necessary for survival. But when ISVs and VARs share the load and deliver educational content to prospects and customers together, everyone wins.
Cal Business Solutions, a Connecticut-based Dynamics VAR, recently unveiled its CAL MarketPlace showcasing ISVs it uses to enhance industry and functional solutions. "We tried to look at what our marketing strengths are for CAL and it is in our Web site and search engine optimization," said Anya Ciecierski, director of marketing at CAL Business Solutions. "So we decided building the CAL MarketPlace was a good way for us to promote our ISV partners with co-marketing. This helps us be a better partner to our clients, and ISV companies we work with."
Give Existing Customers a Reason To Bookmark
The CAL MarketPlace is a rich source of information for existing customers, adding the ongoing education element to the Web site that many partners have been searching for.
Ciecierski noted, "We felt it was important to give our clients one location to get information about the specific ISV/add-on products we recommend for Microsoft Dynamics GP. As their business partner, they look to us to provide advice on enhancements that will improve their business processes. Now there is one central up to date online directory we can point them to at all times."
A VAR-sponsored ISV Web page or mini-site helps all parties on multiple levels.
- The VAR benefits from additional content supplied by ISVs -- both for customers and for search results.
- Both VAR and ISV benefit from additional links for SEO.
- The ISV can promote the VAR site on its Web site for endorsement validation.
- The ISV can offer the content it creates across multiple VARs to capitalize on the time investment, and can reduce the constant one-off marketing challenges that ISVs face.
- Prospects and customers can research stack solutions in one central place.
If you are a VAR and not leveraging your ISV partners for fresh Web content, you are working too hard. If you are an ISV continually trying to execute one-off marketing campaigns with busy partners, there is hope. Join forces and feed the content beast some peas and carrots.
Do you have an ISV-VAR partnership success story? Please leave a comment below, or e-mail me so we can share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on October 05, 2011 at 4:16 PM0 comments
When you buy something from Amazon.com, do you check the customer reviews as part of your research? Of course you do. Now, when prospects visit your Microsoft Pinpoint profile as they research solutions and partners, will they find customer reviews extolling the value of working with you? No? Time to change that.
Simplify the Process for Your Customers
Your customers are just as busy as you are. As much as they may want to take the time to post a rating for you on Pinpoint, it's probably not at the top of their to-do list. You can help them by doing some prep work to make the process as fast as possible.
First, give your customers a step by step guide to the process. Something like this:
URL for U.S.: http://pinpoint.microsoft.com/en-US/default.aspx
Step 1: In "Search Marketplace" enter "Your Company Name"
Step 2: Select "Your Company Name"
Step 3: Click on the orange Reviews tab and then click the orange "Submit a Review" button at the bottom of the Reviews page.
- The Windows Live ID sign in page will appear.
- Sign in using your Live ID. A Ratings and Review page for the company, application or service you want to review will appear, including a ratings and review form, and instructions on how to fill out the form.
Step 4: Follow the instructions to rate and review this company, application or service.
- A title that briefly summarizes the project that we completed for you.
- A brief summary of strong points and weak points (pros and cons).
- Any details you care to share.
- For privacy reasons, you will be asked to create a nickname to submit your review. After you submit a review, it takes between 24 and 48 hours to appear on the site.
Another way to make the reviewing process more convenient for your customer is to provide text that will make it easier for them to complete the entry. "Starters" will help them phrase their review without having to spend time wordsmithing. Write up the title of the project, summary points and a recommendation sentence that they can edit to reflect their personal sentiments. It's far easier for them to edit and adjust your suggestions than to start with a blank form.
Return the Favor
The fact of the matter is that a Pinpoint rating takes a bit of time and effort. Customers that take the time to review your services deserve your appreciation. You can return the favor by giving them a quote that they can use on their Web site or feature their customer story in your next newsletter. Turn the recommendation process into a relationship-building opportunity.
Just Ask -- It's Important
For whatever reasons, many partners are reticent to ask customers for reviews. Microsoft is making a concerted effort to drive traffic to partners through Pinpoint. Customer reviews will help put you at the top of search results. Take advantage of the opportunity and put references from clients at the very top of your marketing priority list.
How are you making Pinpoint work for you? Comment below or drop me a note and let's share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM1 comments
Need some inspiration as you stare at the blank page that will become the content for your next marketing campaign? This week, in our continuing conversation about Microsoft's revamped Ready-to-Go Marketing site (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here), let's look at some ways that you can use the RTG materials that you may not have thought about before. Here are four "idea starters" to inspire you.
1. Create an E-Book
Most e-books being posted on the Web as downloadable content are merely PDF-ed PowerPoint decks designed to for reading instead of presenting. There are a number of RTG customer-facing presentation decks with pages that could be incorporated in your e-book. For example, you could create a "10 Ways To Improve Productivity" e-book. Put your brand on the cover with contact information and use slides from the RTG business productivity decks to fill your pages.
Provide enough text to introduce your points, but let the graphics do the talking as much as possible. The Cloud Power, Business Intelligence and Future of Productivity decks are just a few of the RTG customer presentation decks with good material to use for an e-book. Close the deck with a call to action to motivate your prospect to contact you.
2. Create an Infographic
Microsoft has engaged more outside help to create RTG research reports and whitepapers that you can use to demonstrate value to customers. The data in those reports can provide the foundation for an infographic. An infographic is a visually compelling graphic representation of a group of related facts. PowerPoint is a great tool to create simple infographics to illustrate your point.
The RTG whitepaper "The Economics of the Cloud" is just one example of source material you can use to build your own infographic. You can use a simple infographic as part of a presentation, or combine several charts and lists to build a standalone document that you can use as a call to action for your newsletter or marketing campaign.
3. Check Out Sales Training and Competitive Resources
Not all the RTG resources are just for marketing -- there are also hundreds of RTG resources to educate your sales and internal teams. Telesales guides, data sheets, compete whitepapers and sales presentations provide materials for self-study or your monthly all-hands training meeting.
4. Preview Syndicated Content in Your Newsletter
Give your newsletter readers a reason to click on a link to your Web site with RTG syndicated content. Include the first couple of lines of a syndicated article in your newsletter as a "teaser" and interested readers will click on the link to read the rest of the article. Use the click-through report of your e-mail service to identify and follow up with those interested readers. Through a phone call or e-mail, offer a more in-depth RTG report or whitepaper on the subject that the reader clicked.
Have you used RTG creatively? Leave a comment below or e-mail me so we can share the knowledge.
Posted by Barb Levisay on September 14, 2011 at 10:55 AM0 comments